by: Janet Aslin, Assistant Editor
Packing up all the pieces of your life and moving to a new country is not easy. Yet, this is something Jewish people have been doing on a fairly regular basis since their exile from the Promised Land more than 2,000 years ago. In fact, they have sometimes been called “the wandering Jews” as they have moved from place to place. However, beginning in the late 1800s, in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, Jewish people have been returning to a specific place—Israel, the Land of their inheritance.
Israel is a nation built on aliyah, the calling home of the Jewish people from the nations to which they have been scattered. Modern aliyah numbers have ebbed and flowed over the past one hundred and twenty-five years. At first, a trickle of immigrants fled the anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe; then there came a flood in 1948, the year Israel was established as a nation and absorbed a little over 100,000 new residents. Most of them were driven out of the hostile Arab countries surrounding the infant Jewish state. By the end of 1951, just three years later, the influx had swelled to 687,624.
From its beginnings as a nation, Israel has embraced its role as the homeland for all Jewish people. The Law of Return, enacted by Israel’s Knesset in July of 1950, guarantees every Jew the right to come to Israel as an oleh (immigrant). The response from Jews around the world has shaped the nation and ensured its vibrant population growth. At the moment statehood was declared, there were a mere 806,000 citizens in the Land. Now just sixty-six years later, Israel’s Jewish population has grown to an astonishing 6,186,100 people!
Because of its importance to Israel as a nation, each year’s aliyah records are meticulously kept and analyzed. So, it was no surprise when, in early January 2015, headlines joyfully proclaimed the news that the aliyah numbers from the previous year represented a ten-year record high. The total number of new olim (immigrants) in 2014 was 26,500! Admittedly, this is a modest number when compared with the seven-year total of the 756,602 olim who streamed in from the former Soviet Union during the early 1990s. But there are some exciting “firsts” about last year’s group of immigrants.
It was the first year that olim from the West outnumbered those from the East. Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, said, “2014 was a year of record-breaking aliyah. This year also saw a historic shift: for the first time in Israel’s history, the number of immigrants who came to Israel from the free world is greater than that of immigrants fleeing countries in distress.”
For the first time ever, France topped the list of countries with the largest number of immigrants to Israel. France, with the third-largest Jewish population in the world, saw 7,000 embark for Israel, more than double the previous year’s figure. Aliyah from the former Soviet Union increased by 50% overall while the number of immigrants from the Ukraine rose by 190%. Growth from the United Kingdom and North America was less dramatic but still rose 20% over 2013.
2014’s immigrants were young—more than half of them under the age of 35—and included some 5,300 children under the age of 18. Not to be left out, the older folks were represented by this year’s eldest immigrant who was born in 1910 and made aliyah at the age of 104! These new olim brought skills to Israel. According to the Jewish Agency, “some 2,500 of the immigrants work in engineering and technological fields, and thousands hold degrees in the humanities, social sciences, life sciences and exact sciences. More than 1,000 doctors and health professionals made aliyah, as did some 600 artists and athletes.”
Whether as the result of anti-Semitism or simply a “pulling” on the heart to return to the land of their forefathers, Jewish people all around the world are returning to Israel. At times the reasons are known; at other times they cannot be articulated.
The Jewish Agency in London reports steady increases in British aliyah since 2006. A representative was quoted, “…we can’t put our finger on why it is. Even our colleagues in Israel don’t know.” In other cases, the reasons are given. A 21-year-old from California decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps and move to Israel after he was killed in last summer’s war with Gaza. She told Ynetnews, “I never planned on studying and living in Israel, but I wanted to be as close as possible to my brother.” Yevgeny and Tatyana made aliyah from Ukraine for medical reasons and to be with their children and grandchildren who have been living in Israel for a long time. Others come without their families to volunteer in the IDF as Lone Soldiers. Whatever the reason, they are all God’s people and they’re coming home.
Aliyah should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read the Tanakh (Gen.–Mal.). Countless times when speaking to His people, the Lord says I will “gather you” out of the lands or from among the Gentiles. He even ties this ingathering of the exiles with His reputation. “‘Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that it shall no more be said, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their land which I gave to their fathers’” (Jer. 16:14–15). Statistics say there are 14.2 million Jews in the world today. Forty-three percent of them live in Israel. That means there are more record-breaking years of aliyah to come.
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